This week, it’s the contentious subject of foodstuffs. Practical solution to the endemic crime of celebrity chefs also included at no extra cost, along with convincing dystopian alternative for those who prefer their lunch to take three minutes and come from a pot.
I met someone famous last week. I’m not saying who, that would be beyond vulgar, but the reason I bring it up is to highlight the broader issue of celebrity and the effect it has on those within its orbit. For example, I like to think of myself as a man of the world, perfectly able to hold my own in conversation with people I don’t yet know, and the odd sprinkle of wit and charm adequately greases the wheels for the recipient to feel they haven’t totally wasted their time. It’s a game of badminton, in which the shuttlecock of decorum is gently rallied back and forth until someone cracks and heads off towards the canapés.
Throw in the curveball of fame, however, and these unwritten rules of polite discourse go straight out the window. Any joy to be had from chasing a sentence to wherever it may lead is countered by the suffocating fear of coming across as a bit of a tit. The celebrity in question can usually spot this, helpfully discussing themselves until you are able to regroup, but by now you’re already on the back foot and the vocabulary of gibberish is all you have left to draw from. The more you try to address it, the worse it gets. I often witnessed this with my father, who loved to ‘drop in’ to his local and chat away with verve to those brave enough to approach him. It more often than not culminated in a bizarre face-off, kicking up the following complex algorithm:
Shameless self-promotion plus apparent good nature divided by loss of will to live if he talks about agriculture one more time plus please don’t buy me another pint, I hate beer and I’ve got an expensive bottle of Pouilly-Fumé open at home which I’ll tuck into after you’ve shut up, is the square root of continued local and/or national prestige minus face if I bail too early
Obviously, this is subjective. If I were to be so bold as to suggest an pertinent alternative for those soon to meet and greet someone in the public eye, perhaps it would be something along these lines:
Anonymity plus alcohol plus neutral meeting place equals bolstered confidence minus mutual reference points minus self-awareness plus alcohol plus alcohol divided by inability to remember celebrity’s focal work is the square root of something to talk about in the pub later divided by time taken to achieve same*
A more accurate formula probably lies somewhere in between. Something to do with the synthesis of courage and generosity from both active parties, the onus being on the former. For he/she may still recall a time spent on the other side of the tracks, whereas the latter is single-handedly navigating terra incognita and trying not to blush. And adding another alcohol to the above.
*algorithm does not apply to current Duke of Edinburgh
A little while back, I wrote a short piece about food on another blog platform when I was attempting to find my voice. It was deliberately confrontational and probably a touch derivative, the main thrust being that food is, in essence, merely petrol to keep us all alive in order to do far greater things than the act of eating itself. This would have been apposite if written in the 1970s (or indeed earlier), when the greater irony may well have been appreciated by frequenters of those appalling trattorias, nascent curry houses and stick-in-the-mud bastions of public school cuisine. But it wasn’t.
Over the last twenty years or so, we have morphed into a nation of foodies. Suddenly, every man and his dog has developed a palate that subtle, it would leave Abigail and her guests floundering like jetsam at one of her soirées. We demand choice and quality as standard (despite having come through the worst recession since WW2) and, more than ever, we require affirmation that our opinions are justified. Why so?
Because our newly-found appreciation of all things gastronomic is nothing more than the emperor’s new clothes. We food snobs, like wine snobs, know deep down that our honed interest in the ephemeral is pretty low down on the pecking order of things that actually matter. Consequently, in much the same way that our current government operates, we surround ourselves with like-minded sycophants who will be the first to forgive us for thinking that it does. So when the bill payer clicks his/her fingers at a chain restaurant minion and they come running, no-one from either camp dares question the validity of the challenge. Money talks, deafeningly when there isn’t much around, and putting an opinionated Herbert to rights is probably not worth losing your job for.
But it is a wafer-thin confidence, to be annihilated absolutely in the not too distant future by global events, the seething aficionados of packaged goods, and common sense. I predict a time when all celebrity chefs are dragged by the hair from their culinary idylls, thrown into the stocks and pelted to death with every last leaf of kale, lollo rosso and organically-farmed, locally-sourced cucumber that inevitably ended its days in the recycling bin. When coffee houses, like televisions in the 1950s, only offer black and white as an option, and if anyone with a manicured moustache demands anything with more than one syllable, they too will be executed on-site in the manner of Charles I and their remains fed to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pigs. And when the beasts of Smithfield, at the point of their bloody departure from this world to the restaurants of St John Street, are given the option to turn the tables, they do so on the sole condition that they feast exclusively on their perpetrators.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future.
I despair, I really do. We are living in an era where all you have to do to be the zeitgeist is get your bum out or unleash your rotten larynx onto a public so anaesthetised by mediocrity that to hit a note accurately is the equivalent of a presidential motorcade. Without the sniper, obviously. Although, my stars, we certainly could do with one. Does anyone remember a time when to be a celebrity meant that you actually had to have something of value to offer? When footballers earned not much more than Bob the Builder and spin was something you did in tennis not politics? And when did it become acceptable to get your house done up by TV producers with one eye on the ratings and the other on gullibility? The list goes on and on as our resistance to cack shrinks like the polar ice caps.
Anyway, I’m on the phone to Nibs because I saw that Nick off The Apprentice at my work last week, and he had that Keira Knightley off the films at Idle Hour Barnes. Not last week, but recently. In the last 18 months, anyway. And she said it was her favourite pub in London. And I was going to ask that Nick off The Apprentice to check out the Idle Hour but at the last minute I got scared and I went red and he saw me and I got really embarrassed. So I pretended not to see him and then he walked past me and then I did this really loud cough and then he turned around and I was like, so, uh! And then I went into WH Smiths and got some Malteasers. And Heat magazine.
Perhaps we’re all missing a trick here. I recall a time when Kylie, whose work to that date had been considered risible, was implausibly embraced by the fashionable music press. NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, all of which had been championing fiercely independent bands, suddenly turned on a sixpence and tried to make us all believe that this (admittedly) attractive media puppet had significant cultural value that we were not yet aware of. I fervently believe that this was the fulcrum point of our demise.
Anyway, I’m on the phone to Nibs because I heard that track off the last Take That album was on an advert. And the advert was, like, really brilliant. And then I got to thinking it would be really brilliant if the Idle Hour had, like, a song, sort of like the Take That one, not exactly like it but kind of the same, and it was on an advert for the pub, but with Take That doing the music. Or even Kylie. Cos that would be really brilliant.
Art, as in nature, has ever-decreasing circles of influence. One day these circles will become so small they no longer have the space to turn. Then, and only then, my friends, will we understand. Last orders at the bar, folks. And I’ll have a P please, Nick…
London 1779. A young servant boy runs towards his master along a dirt track that will become White Hart Lane, Barnes in fifty-odd years. They have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.
Servant: My Lord! I have found us the tavern! Over yonder by the railway tracks.
Master: Mock me not, Bobbins, or ye shall sleep with the fishes tonight. And the railway has not yet been invented, as well ye know.
Servant: Forgive me, Master, but it is true. The landlord seems most welcoming also.
Master: Perchance, does he sport a ridiculous yellow Miami Vice jacket? And Penny Loafer shoes with white socks? And a beard inside which one could conceal a bantam?And does he answer to the name ‘Nibs’?
Servant: Why yes, my Lord! How could you know such things?
Master: And tell me: Is it not Tuesday the 15th even as we speak?
Servant: Forsooth, I believe it is, my Lord.
Master: Also, pray, whilst you were inside, did you spy the tail of an alligator and/or the gizzards of a zebra on the ‘Exotic Meats For One Week Only As Recommended By A Celebrity We Cannot Name’ menu?
Servant: Santa on a stick, M’lud, thou art surely blessed with divine perception. But as your servant, I cannot use words of more than one syllable at a time if I am to be a credible sidekick to your increasingly unlikely literary device.
Master: BE SILENT insolent child!!! Thou shalt conform to this narrative stereotype or by my own entrails thou shalt go hungry tonight.
Servant: But Master, I am a lily-livered, limp-wristed, ex-art school vegetarian. I fear such sumptuous foodstuffs will play havoc with ye olde plumbing.
Master: GOD’S TROUSERS!!! Boy, do you know nothing? It’s none other than Exotic Meats Week at The Idle Hour Barnes, and by some fantastical feat of fortune we have stumbled upon it at the very start.
Servant: Actually sir, I think you’ll find it was by Sat Nav.
Master: Like, whatever, sirrah! Do not question my methods, or for that matter my timing: I fear we are 232 years too early for such a feast but we do at least have the blessed fortune of being British a century in advance of queueing for fun so we stand a good chance of getting in. Do you really not eat meat?
Servant: Sorry. Not a guff’s chance in a wind tunnel.
Master: I hate you, Bobbins.
Servant: Yes, sir.
The two men turn into Railway Side where they are met by a man in an absurd Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. And a beard. He smiles and embraces them in a not at all scary manner. That’s what you do on Exotic Meat Week. Because there’s lots of exotic meat. And you have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.